On Monday, we spent some time at The Covering playing with the kids. We also had a meeting set up with the Chief and other leaders of Kroo Bay, a village within Freetown. One minute we were in a decent part of downtown, where things looked the same as every place else we'd seen. The next minute, we were heading down a hill looking out over the tops of thousands of shacks.
They were right next to each other, creating a mosaic of tin, cardboard, tarps and anything else that could be used as a covering for shelter. It was right on a bay and built on top of a trash dump. They were literally living on top of garbage.
There were days in Sierra Leone that I thought things could just not possibly get any worse. At first, I thought the orphanage was just terrible. The kids were beautiful and clean, clothed and fed. Still, I couldn't imagine being a mom who was forced to give up a child due to circumstances out of my control and I couldn't fathom my own sons growing up in an orphanage with 80 kids and no mom. It got worse....at the hospital. The children's hospital was such a horrific experience. Dying children and babies. Mom's - even the one who refused to give her child water - loved their babies enough to stand outside in long lines, waiting and hoping that they could get in...hoping that they would find hope in this desperate place that had virtually nothing to offer. I knew then that it couldn't get any worse than this.
Oh, but I was so wrong. It did get worse....in Kroo Bay.
The sight of this place was unthinkable. Nothing could be worse than this, I thought. When the car door opened, the smell hit me like a brick wall in the face....the smell was, indeed, worse than the sight. A stench of rotting garbage, waste from humans and animals..all in stagnant, muddy water. My stomach turned and I prayed as I walked down a tiny little walkway that I would be able to breathe without throwing up. I tried to clamp my mouth shut tight so that none of the millions of flies could get in. On both sides of this walkway, not more than a couple feet to my right and leftt, were moms sitting out on the ground or on stools staring at this long line of white people heading to the center of their village.
Then I remembered that I needed to keep my reaction to this place in check. I honestly wasn't sure what my face must've looked like - I was just trying to keep from being sick. I wondered if these ladies could tell how I was feeling and what they must've thought of me. So, I lifted my head and tried to look them in the eye with a smile. Once I was able to shift my mind from the smell to the people, my heart broke again for this community.
How could this be real? Why are they living like this? How does this happen in our world today?
We were led to a clearing among the shacks, where there was an open "field" of mud and 2 soccer goals. The purpose of our visit was to deliver soccer balls to the kids here. One of the boys who went with us and his class at school had collected them for this purpose. Kroo Bay, as we found out, has a soccer league. Here in this field, we met with the Chief and other leaders of the community for a formal ceremony, of sorts.
The Chief wore a native suit and sat in a chair while the rest of the crowd stood gathered around. They opened the ceremony with both a Christian and Muslim prayer. Quami spoke on behalf of The Raining Season and introduced Erica, the co-founder. She told the leaders how much we are concerned about the people of Kroo Bay and want to reach out to help them and their children, even in some small way. Their leaders spoke and introduced the Chief before the balls were formally handed to the coaches of each of the teams in the league.
Kroo Bay is a village of 16,000 people. The citizens of Kroo Bay fled to Freetown when their villages in the provinces were being raided during the war. Of 16,000 people, they estimate that there are at least 3,000 - 4,000 orphaned children living there, maybe more.
Soccer is very important to them. They know that if they can raise up talented soccer players, they might have a way out of the poverty and a path to opportunity. They understand that their children are their future and their hope. The adults and children were thrilled to have new balls.
After the ceremony, we were allowed to take pictures and video of the kids playing around and of the village itself. We promised that the pictures we took would not be used to exploit their poverty, but to bring awareness to their situation so that we might be able to continue to come and bring relief when we are able.
I only had my video camera with me that day. I haven't had time to get it all put together, but this post has been written for almost a week now. I'm going to go ahead and post it and then I'll put the video up. Hopefully, by Monday or Tuesday.
For now, you can follow this link and see a video that is a recap of our trip. It's about 20 minutes long, but worth every minute! Give it some time to load before you play, so you won't be interrupted. Hope you enjoy.....oh, and if you're like me, you might wanna grab a box of Kleenex before you start. :)